From time to time I’ll be compiling lists of foods for various health concerns and posting them. I hope you find them interesting but do remember that you should never radically alter your diet without first discussing your current health with your MD or acupuncturist, or both!
The Anti-Flu Diet
Looking for ways to reduce your chance of getting flu this season? A study, published by The American Physiological Society found that mice were significantly less likely to contract flu when given quercetin, a powerful antioxidant found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. According to the study’s authors, the research also indicated that high consumption of quercetin resulted in catching fewer colds.
So, what are the best quercetin rich foods that you can load up on? Quercetin is found in red onions, grapes, blueberries, tea, broccoli and red wine. Red onions are one of the best quercetin rich foods as they have approximately four times the quercetin of most other produce. Eat them raw or cooked.
Foods for Fertility
Black Beans: According to Oriental medicine, the energy of the Kidney system is important for reproduction and fertility enhancement often starts with the Kidneys. A good example of a food that nourishes the Kidneys and promotes fertility is black beans.
From an Eastern perspective, black beans are warming in nature. They are thought to tonify the Kidney Qi and nourish Yin and Blood. From a Western perspective, black beans are an excellent source of protein, folate, iron and fiber and are rich in antioxidants. Research published in the November 2003 issue of Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry indicates that black beans are as rich in antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins as grapes and cranberries, fruits long considered antioxidant superstars.
When researchers analyzed different types of beans, they found that, the darker the bean’s seed coat, the higher its level of antioxidant activity. Gram for gram, black beans were found to have the most antioxidant activity, followed in descending order by red, brown, yellow, and white beans.
Overall, the level of antioxidants found in black beans in this study is approximately 10 times that found in an equivalent amount of oranges, and comparable to that found in an equivalent amount of grapes or cranberries.
Foods for Seasonal Allergies
Ginger: Ginger is a natural antihistamine and decongestant. It may provide some relief from IUergy symptoms by dilating constricted bronchial tubes.
Apples: Some foods, including apples, contain the f1avanoid, quercetin that can cross-react with tree pollen. Quercetin can reduce allergic reactions by having an antihistamine effect. It also decreases inflammation. Quercetin occurs naturally in certain foods, such as apples (with the skin on), berries, red grapes, red onions, capers, and black tea.
Carrots: Carotenoids are a family of plant pigments that include beta carotene. A lack of carotenoids in the diet is thought to promote inflammation in your airways. Good Sources of carotenoids include apricots, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, kale, butternut squash, and collard greens.
Omega·3: Omega-3 essential fatty acids can counter the formation of chemicals that cause inflammation of the air passages. Good natural sources include flaxseed oil and salmon.
Yogurt: Food sensitivities seem to be connected with seasonal allergies. In a study conducted at the University of California, patients who were fed 18 to 24 ounces of yogurt a day experienced a decline in their environmental allergic symptoms by 90 percent.
Fiber: A healthy and active colon can decrease food sensitivity, which, in turn, can lighten the burden on your immune system and may reduce the impact of seasonal allergies. For maximum colon health, increase the fiber in your diet.
Cancer Fighting Veggies
Widely considered to be one of the healthier food choices are the cruciferous vegetables. Included in this family of vegetables are broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy. Cruciferous vegetables are high in vitamins, fiber, and potent anticancer phytochemicals.
According to the American Institute for Cancer, there is solid evidence that links cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer. Studies have shown that this vegetable group has the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells for tumors in the breast, uterine lining, lung, colon, liver and cervix. And studies that track the diets of people over time have found that diets high in cruciferous vegetables are linked to lower rates of prostate cancer.
It is recommended that we eat 3-5 servings of cruciferous vegetables per week. It’s best to eat these veggies raw or only lightly steamed so they retain their cancer fighting phytochemicals.
- Beet greens
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese cabbage
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
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In 1992, I was in desperate search of a miracle cure for my furiously rising hormone levels, which – according to a well-documented study – reduced my remaining childbearing years to zero. At the time I was eating close to the recommendations of The Fertility Diet: whole milk products, brown rice, tofu, poultry, nuts and fruit, multigrain bread, an afternoon desert and coffee. Yet there I was, at forty two, going into premature menopause with several endocrinologists proclaiming my “ovulatory infertility” to be beyond repair.
One day, in a last-ditch effort to prop up my wilting ovaries, I resolved to raise the bar on my eating habits. The first food I eliminated was dairy. My decision to do so was inspired by my chronic sinus headaches. Several sources indicated a strong correlation between milk products and high levels of congestion. Amazingly, after three dairy-free weeks, my sinus headaches vanished. And eight months later (following a regime of additional diet changes and rigorous self-examination) I conceived a baby girl. After publicly sharing my story, I received hundreds of e-mails from women who emulated my process with similar results.
Notably, in 1994, the year of my daughter’s birth, a large scale study in the Journal of Epidemiology, surveyed women in over 35 countries, showing that those in countries with the highest milk consumption experienced the sharpest, age-related drop in ovarian reserve. Women between the ages of 35-39 reported the highest rate of declining reproductive function. Some experts proposed that this delayed impact might’ve been caused by the cumulative toxic effect of galactose on ovarian germ cells.
No, not everyone needs to give up dairy to become pregnant. Though a substantial body of clinical research documents the adverse effects of dairy on endocrine and immune health.
Overall, for the reader who has not done extensive prior research, many of The Fertility Diet recommendations can be dangerously misleading. Consider this: “It has been hard to keep up with the fortunes of soy over the last decade…” followed by: ” don’t turn up your nose at tofu… or ignore soy milk…” If you’re going to write a book, entitled, The Fertility Diet, you might care to do what it takes to keep up with the fortunes of soy. Women with irregular ovulation might in fact, do best to turn up their noses at tofu and soy milk. Non-fermented soy products have been linked with impaired thyroid function. Not a desirable condition for an aspiring mom.
Or here is another equally troubling recommendation: “Drink coffee… and alcohol in moderation…we didn’t see any effects on fertility at moderate levels of caffeine intake, which is the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee a day.” The interested reader will indeed find a number of sources documenting the adverse affect of caffeine, including higher miscarriage rates, increased blood pressure, excessive urinary excretion of magnesium, potassium, and calcium (essential nutrients for maintaining a healthy pregnancy) to name a few. The followers of Dr. Chavarro’s guidelines might want to take note of an alarming piece of research* that points toward larger risk of mammary and bladder cancer among coffee drinkers on a high fat diet. And if none of these findings were convincing enough, when attempting to create a most welcoming environment for new life, wouldn’t it make more sense to abstain from ingesting a substance that leads to physical dependency serious enough to result in withdrawal symptoms?
What about the suggested curative effect of ice-cream and whole-fat-dairy? Tinkering with the natural proportion of elements within a food system has been known to spell trouble. Thus, whole fat foods are for the most part healthier than their low-fat counterparts. But the claim that whole-fat milk products in particular are responsible for reversing ovulatory imbalance is highly misleading. Looking at the original study, one could also easily surmise that women who eat low fat dairy, are likely to be chronic dieters with fluctuations in weight. And such fluctuations have been known to result in impaired hormonal health. The reason that even one serving of low-fat foods is shown to increase the risk, is not the milk, but the fact that it marks a particular personality trait, and relationship to food in general.
In the last fourteen years of counseling people with ovulatory issues, I have found that eight out of ten women have digestive difficulties. I wonder about the effect of – a four cheese soufflé, a few cups of coffee, a glass of wine, fruit desserts and nuts and berries for an evening snack, to name but a few suggestions in the back of the book – on an already compromised digestive system.
Oh, yes, many readers might miss the irony of the lovely image of two peas in a pod on the jacket of the book. At first I thought it was an odd, but interesting, conscious choice. Until I found them listed in one of the charts without any mention of their damaging effect. Peas, you see, are not quite the libido lifting edibles you want to mix into your husband’s, or your own dinner salad. At least not if you’re trying to have a baby. They are one of the few vegetables known to have contraceptive properties.
By no means do I mean to imply that scientific research is to be dismissed. But in case you’re tempted to wait for the Harvard sequel (Dr. Chavarro has assured us that “Plans are underway to conduct a…study to test the diet in a more scientifically rigorous manner”) to determine your menu, here is something I learned observing hundreds of people who conceived robust babies, often in direct contradiction of current food science dogma. When it comes to something as dynamic, and mysterious as a human organism, as complex as food, and as miraculous as creating a life, nothing can replace the value of doing your own thinking and the solid science of direct observation.
* Int J of Cancer (1983) 32:479-84